During the COVID-19 lockdown, is it OK for trainee counsellors to offer email counselling?
Updated: Mar 29
There is no option at the moment to go out and see a counsellor in their office, so online counselling has surged.
However, in this lockdown it can be difficult for clients to find a regular time that is quiet and confidential to have counselling, especially if they have a house full of people. Not to mention having a strong enough internet connection if everyone in the house is watching Netflix!
With email counselling we get around this very easily and clients can write at a time that suits them. This therapeutic email exchange is very powerful.
With my recent blog series about email counselling this has seen a further surge in people enquiring about email counselling and fellow counsellors also asking me about it.
What I didn’t anticipate was the questions I would get from trainee student counsellors.
There are now thousands of trainee student counsellors suddenly left without a placement to gain experience working with clients in order to qualify. Since writing my blogs I have had a number of student counsellors contact me asking to volunteer to offer email counselling. This is a big issue for many reasons and I hope that a copy of my email reply I have been sending out is helpful for students in this situation to understand my reason for saying thank you, but NO.
Thank you for your message your email.
I am sorry to hear that your placement has had to be put on pause due to the Coronavirus. It sounds like your course leaders are doing all they can to try and help you keep up with your client hours. It's great that you are interested in email therapy. It is indeed a great way to work and I enjoy it very much. However, I need to let you know that it (like all other forms of online counselling) requires advanced specialist training. At this difficult time some qualified experienced counsellors are choosing to do some basic emergency training in online counselling so that they can 'hold' their clients at this time; however, I am sure many credible online counsellors would agree with me that it is not appropriate or ethical to switch your way of working to online counselling as a trainee.
Email counselling in particular is the most different from face-to-face counselling so even qualified counsellors are not being encouraged to do it at this time as it entails a completely new set of skills. I am very concerned at your counselling course recommending this. It may be that they just don't know enough about online counselling themselves, and, not knowing all the potential pitfalls they are sending you into, would be unable to support you if you did end up finding a new online placement to practise with. I also wonder if they would be planning to set you up with a qualified online supervisor, as this a very important aspect of doing online counselling safely.
I realise that this may be disappointing to hear but hope that you will take this email seriously and think very carefully about the harm you might cause to yourself and your clients if you did end up finding a way to do email counselling. Having been in your shoes many years ago I know how frustrating it can be when things get in the way and stop you from getting your client hours, as it can delay you doing your assignments and qualifying, but I hope you can sit tight and wait for this to be all over and then return to your face-to-face work. Then, in a few years with some more face-to-face experience under your belt, I hope that you do re-visit the idea of training to be an online counsellor. There is a huge need for more qualified online counsellors as this way of working is becoming increasingly popular.
On another note if you are interested in reading more about email counselling I am writing a 4-part blog series, which can be found here: https://www.sussexrainbowcounselling.com/blog
There are also lots of talks and online support groups on Online Events about Coronavirus and working online. I think you need to be a member to access them but if you join their Facebook page you can normally access some of the most recent talks for free. https://www.onlinevents.co.uk/online-therapy/
I hope this helps and I wish you well in your journey into the counselling world.
To read more about this way of working I have a 4-part blog series on email counselling.
Read Part 1 "What is Email Counselling?"
Read Part 2 "What is the Disinhibition Effect?"
Read Part 3 "Boundaries in Email Counselling"
Read Part 4 “Misunderstandings in Email Counselling”
For more information about the email counselling service I offer click here.